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Good government magic
By Jim Sack
Fort Wayne Reader
Carol Helton pulled a rabbit out of the hat the other day.
Remember the cell tower bill that a power-hungry Republican leader pushed through the Republican Indiana Senate and Republican Indiana House of Representative and signed by the Republican governor?
It was the bill that would allow cell tower companies to put, without restraint, a 50 foot tower bristling with transponders and 6x6x6 control boxes anywhere on city right-of-way – in front of churches, in front of your window, next to Mad Anthony, at the entrances to parks and memorials, wherever there is an easement or a park strip. Anywhere.
Check Political Animal in FWR #310 for the fuller story.
The bill passed, needless to say, in late April to the cheers of lobbyists and insider politicians. The bill gave cities and towns a very short week to rewrite their statutes to comply and conform to the bill. A week in lawyer years is blink of the eye. Consider that any law has consequences to be considered, and should not be rushed. Typically, time is taken to post public notices, for hearings to be scheduled, public comment taken, and experts to weight in, etc. The goal is always to avoid the law of unintended consequences and to keep the fox out of the chicken coup.
So, having a mere seven days to react is like watching a boulder rolling down a steep hill toward your tent and sleeping family.
And, need we add that the people of Fort Wayne through their elected officials had opposed the bill? And, shall we add that the speed with which the bill was to be implemented was to deprive citizens and officials time to react? And, remember that the author of the bill that would most affect communities with garish cell towers every couple of blocks hails from a sleepy village surrounded by cornfields and pig waste in Tippecanoe County We might add he is a candidate for an appointment by his buddy, VP Pence, to the Federal Communications Commission and needs the cache such a law would add to his fat-cat resume. The FCC seat is a plum job that leads to all sorts of perks, such as golfing at Mar-a-Lago on the public dime.
So, City Attorney Helton and her staff came up with an arcane law to regain local control – it is the buried wire law that says something like any new construction requires wires to be buried. Cruise Sycamore Hills and note the landscape is not marred by tangles of wires and industrial-looking telephone poles. It is a bucolic landscape the central city has so far been denied. The buried wire law now says in areas of new construction the wires go underground, and for many good reasons. Well, Magician Helton via the Board of Public Works, and with the reported assistance of former south side city councilman Tim Pape, has declared the city in its entirety a new construction zone! Now the cell tower people will have to get a permit for each and every tower.
It was a stroke of genius, and a rabbit out of the hat in the face of a boulder about to crush the tent.
And, to many that is what good government is about, protecting the interests of the less powerful from those with great wealth and powerful connections. In that regard Wizard Helton and her team deserve the good government badge of excellence.
And there was more
That late April Friday was a very busy day. Immediately after the Board of Works meeting Councilman John Crawford stepped to the mic in Council Chambers East to announce plans to introduce a tax hike. He was flanked by the mayor, three other councilmen and a few other officials. The $70 per year per $50k income would raise some $9 million for city sidewalks, curbs and the Riverfront.
Dr. Crawford said the money would first be used to lay sidewalks to schools. (The property tax caps are to blame for a loss of bus service…) The tax money would also repair some sidewalks in the central city. Further, he added, nodding to his pièce de résistance, the public wants the Riverfront done and done quickly, so expect much of that $9 million to serve as catalyst for Phases II, III of Riverfront development. He noted, as have we in the past, that the Riverfront is at least a $100 million dollar investment in our community, and he added that the $100 million would leverage around a billion in private investment.
As someone said, if you want something nice you have to pay for it, so instead of taking fifty years to build the Riverfront Dr. Crawford and the mayor oppose dawdling and that old Fort Wayne curse of never quite finishing a project.
There is an old story that might serve as a lesson: Foster and Kessler proposed a revolutionary park and boulevard system for Fort Wayne in 1912 that gave us Rudisill, State and Anthony, not to mention river drives and parks, and included development of the river front. Some 70 years later the community finally got around to building Kessler’s visionary Headwaters Park, but many parts of their plan remain undone. City council denied that vision through pinch-penny policies back then, so it was interesting to see four councilmen standing in support of this tax increase to beautify our community in the spirit of Foster, Kessler and the Shoaffs. Beside Dr. Crawford were Councilmen Didier, Hines, and Freistroffer. Expect Councilmen Arp, Ensley, Jehl and Barannda to stand against this plan. That leaves Geoff Paddock as the swing vote. He is guaranteed to ask a lot of questions.
One other note: Dr. Crawford, you may remember, was a deciding vote a decade ago on whether to build the ball park downtown. That vote, plus the smoking ordinance, cost him his council seat. He has been proven right on both matters, probably on this one, too.